Cultivating peace, preventing violence

By Johan Galtung

… was the title of the Symposium at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia-USA 17-19 Nov 2012. An example of the blossoming wave of peace studies all over the US; inter-disciplinary and international. Most papers were given by very promising students on most aspects of peace studies. It is inconceivable that this will not have a major impact on US foreign policy in a generation or so, particularly with the demographic shift from the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) males voting Romney to the negations of all of that, including Blacks, Latins and women voting Obama. And with that shift the idea of a Chosen People with a Promised Land and a Covenant with the Almighty making them exceptional and indispensable, above the law of ordinary states, will slowly die.

We met under the shadow of another Chosen People-Promised Land trying to make the world see a second massacre in Gaza as self-defense only; not as a part of an occupation–mimicked by US clients like Norway.

We met under the shadow of the tragic April 16 2007 at Virginia Tech: the largest school massacre in US history, 32 students killed and 15 badly wounded by a Korean student who committed suicide. The first school massacre was in Pennsylvania 1764, four American Indians killing a headmaster and 10 students. There are very many in-between.

Under the shadow of more problems piling up than at almost any period in US history: wars being lost, an empire crumbling with local elites finding their own ways, massive economic crisis heading for the “fiscal cliff” of heavy reduction of expenditure and increase in taxes for a $600 billion deficit reduction that may lead to more recession or, if postponed, to inflation and devaluation, elite demoralization like in the Petraeus resignation under “sexual McCarthyism”, and a deep split in the nation, between the two coasts and the in-betweens.

And under the shadow of a history of genocide of the First Nations, of slavery with mutinies, and the disastrous Civil War.

A nation badly in need of a culture of peace and violence-prevention. Badly in need of a solution-orientation to conflicts rather than using lawyers and courts to be proven right, and using the military, battles and killings to designate a winner. But how?!

Mark Twain had an answer: “If your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails”. The very fact of having ARMS, not only arms with fists, itself generates killing as the way out. Out of what? “Handguns kill an average of 43 family members, friends or acquaintances for every intruder” instead of solving the quarrels.

Arms provide the capability for direct violence; an underlying unresolved direct conflict provides the motivation. Somebody stands in my way, take him out. But underlying a direct conflict is often a structural conflict with structural violence causing more suffering than overt killing. And underlying that, in turn, very often is a cultural violence justifying the structural or direct violence.

Five levels reinforcing each other. Direct violence is used to establish such massive structural violence as occupation, slavery, or the state as a prison for all but the dominant nation – like Kurds being repressed by Turks and Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians. The Israelis have an expression for this, “the facts on the ground”, a structural violence that has lasted so long that it is seen as normal. It’s of curse a gross underestimation of collective human memory.

The road to a new reality that accommodates the parties reasonably well passes through a creative solution to the direct conflict, and through a structural change.

You don’t like anti-US terrorism? Drop the empire–exploitative, killing, repressing, imprinting–in favor of equity, like the European Union—up to and until the debt bondage crisis.

You don’t like rockets from Gaza? Reprisals will bring you nowhere; there are hundreds of ways to attack. Drop the occupation in favor of an equitable Middle East-West Asian community.

You don’t like debt bondage? Drop debt bondage, combine debt forgiveness with only a minimum credit; stimulate self-reliance at the local levels, and an equitable exchange between indebted countries.

You don’t like slaves revolting? Drop slavery.

You don’t like dominated nations revolting inside your state? Drop the unitary state in favor of devolution or equitable federations within Turkey-Syria-Iraq-Iran, with autonomies for the four Kurdish minorities, and with an equitable confederation among the autonomies.

You don’t like school massacres? Mental disorder and easy access to arms matter; but it could also be underdog revenge or revolt. Why killing so many? Because it is against categories, not individuals. Why at schools? Because it is a ladder to the top. The road to peace passes through more equitable societies, with fewer losers.

You didn’t like the Civil War, a love story with the military so deep that they even used two hammers against each other? Solve the conflict; not the shameful 1850 compromise but maybe a confederation in exchange for abolition? Or, by buying the freedom of slaves?

Why all the violence? Five approaches:

1- Easy access to arms by civilians and military;

2- Tradition of glorified violence in history, education, media;

3- Lack of ability to solve conflicts with the 3 Cs –constructively, concretely, creatively–in public and private life and in the media;

4- Massive and lasting structural violence;

5- By justifying violence in general as natural, inevitable, often necessary and often to the good.

Who is the world number 1? You guessed it.

How do we prevent violence? By negating all five above. React with violence, no solution, and you will harvest more violence in return.

How do we cultivate peace?

• through cooperation for mutual and equal benefit;
• harmony through empathy;
• traumas conciliation, clearing the past and building a future;
• by solving conflicts through the 3 Cs.

Feasible, possible -for instance through peace studies, theory and practice.

Originally published here.

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